Located at 2,300m of altitude in the Vanoise massif, in the French department of Savoie, Val Thorens is proud to boast the title of the highest resort in Europe. Like Menuires (another ski resort at a lower altitude), it is part of the municipality of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville and offers 93 miles of slopes, with 99% of them running between 2,000 and 3,200m. It is every experienced skier's dream! But ...
Located at 2,300m of altitude in the Vanoise massif, in the French department of Savoie, Val Thorens is proud to boast the title of the highest resort in Europe. Like Menuires (another ski resort at a lower altitude), it is part of the municipality of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville and offers 93 miles of slopes, with 99% of them running between 2,000 and 3,200m. It is every experienced skier's dream! But that's not all. With 50% of the slopes listed in the intermediate category, it also offers many possibilities for those still learning.
Moreover, this youth-filled (the average age is around 36) and cosmopolitan (70% of the clientele is international) resort specialised in skiing has an ice-racing track named after Alain Prost, where the Andros Trophy takes place, the longest toboggan run in France, a terrain park, a benchmark boardercross course, and a slalom stadium.
Thanks to the numerous and efficient ski lifts, you will spend more time skiing than waiting in endless queues and you can even connect to the Internet using the Wi-Fi in the Funitel de Peclet departure points and the Cairn/Charon cable cars.
Another advantage: Val Thorens is located in The Three Valleys ski region, the largest skiable area in Europe with its 370 miles of slopes. Ski passes can be extended by the day here.
Val Tho, for those who know it well, is a pedestrian ski resort, meaning you don't need a car to get to the slopes. Plus, there are shuttles that take you from one end of the resort to the other once you're off your skis.
With regards to accommodation, there are 23,000 beds available between the 12 hotels, 3 holiday clubs, holiday complexes and private chalets. A new addition should be making an appearance at the end of 2012: the Hameau du Kashmir, a large-scale project including a highly luxurious holiday complex and a 3-star hotel, equipped with a relaxation area and a nursery.
Where gastronomy is concerned, Val Thorens has several well-known establishments, starting with Chef Jean Sulpice's Oxalys, a two-star restaurant offering creative and refined cuisine. At midday, the Montana proposes a great menu option that borrows from the gastronomical menu at the Epicurean, created by Jérémy Gillon.
Val Thorens is first and foremost a resort for those who love to ski, for those who are at home on the slopes and entirely devoted to the king of winter sports. This being said, there are other activities here that will draw your attention as well.
Every year the famous Andros Trophy is held at Val Tho, a race designed for cars and motorbikes on the snow and ice. The Ice Driving Academy gives those who love thrills the opportunity to learn how to drive on ice, on the Alain Prost ice-racing track, under the guidance of seasoned professionals.
Another introductory course available is an initiation to mountain biking on snow, at 3,000m of altitude at the foot of the Péclet glacier. This nearly 4 mile descent, which takes 45 minutes and can be done until nightfall, includes sliding, turning and braking.
Fans of sliding sports will not miss out on trying out the longest luge run in France! Safeguarded and marked, this run featuring banked turns and variously angled pitches is aimed at adults and children age 5 and up. You just have to take the Funitel to the foot of the Péclet glacier to access the nearly 4 mile run.
The 'école de la montagne' (school of the mountains) has started a unique and fun 'pushchairs hike' for urbanites. The goal: introduce children and adults to the mountains by, for the former, teaching them how to make snowballs and snowmen and, for the latter, teaching them some basic rules, like how to dress, what is eaten in the mountains, and learning about the different types of snow.
Take the Montagnettes trail towards Menuires to not miss out on the impressive view over the valley of Belleville. Thanks to its southern orientation, you will also enjoy endless sunshine.
The glaciers of Vanoise are also magnificent. Accompanied by a high mountain guide, discover one of the most beautiful off-pistes of The Three Valleys in the Maurienne valley while out on a day hike or a trek of several days.
La Folie Douce ('sheer madness'), from the same family as the La Folie Douce in Val d'Isère, is worth the trip to reach it. If you love to party, you will appreciate this spot located at 2,600m of altitude and where the music starts blasting as of 2:00pm! It brings together all of the clubbers in the resort in an atmosphere of... madness, as its name suggests. Be careful of the downhill ski afterwards, though, since it may be just a wee bit dangerous.
To get to Val Thorens from Paris, there are two options available: take the TGV to Chambéry followed by a good hour and a half ride by car or bus, or, take the train to Moutiers followed by a 40 minute car ride up the mountain.
If you are coming with your children, book them a spot at the nursery or the ski school. You might also want to look into the other activities available for them throughout the winter: torchlight descents with a mini torch, driving mini 4x4s, snowshoe excursions, and swimming for babies and children.
The mountains can be dangerous! Do not stray from the marked paths except with a high mountain guide.
If you are coming by car to Val Thorens, leave it at the car park! This "pedestrian" ski resort offers free shuttles during the winter for getting from one spot to another when you're not on the slopes.
All of the specialities from Savoie are of course on the menu! A good raclette or cheese fondue after a day of skiing, what could be better! That's not all, though. Since the arrival of Jean Sulpice in the Oxalys kitchen (in 2002), the gastronomy at the resort has been reinvented. On the famous chef's menu you will find chaud-froid chestnut soup with parmesan cheese and grated truffles, roe deer infused in hay served with cocoa and cardamom jus, and the emblematic 'pomme en coque meringuée' (an apple which has had its skin replaced by a perfectly spherical shell of crunchy meringue). The Auberge du Sherpa has, for its part, received a Gault Millaut chef's hat (an influential French restaurant guide). As for the Montana, located at foot of the slopes, it offers refined and inventive cuisine.
A little detour to 'La Belle en Cuisse' is essential if you are an epicurean. This delicatessen is packed with delicious products: all kinds of different ham, local cheeses like Beaufort, Tome and Reblochon, génépi (a spirit made from a plant that grows in the mountains), local wines, etc.
As for souvenirs, children will be delighted with the musical marmot cuddly toy.
Stock up on brand name ski gear as well - fleece items, ski pants, a ski suit, etc. - which you can sometimes find on sale.